Islamic State fighters are holding onto a small part of Sirte, Libya more than six months after local Libyan forces began an offensive to retake the city. The “Solid Structure” (Al Bunyan Al Marsoos) operations room, which is backed by the US and its Western allies, oversees the ground offensive against the so-called caliphate’s men. On Nov. 17, Solid Structure posted an updated map of the fighting on its official Twitter feed. The map can be seen below:
Solid Structure’s map indicates that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists are primarily located in Al Giza Al Bahriyia neighborhood, which is one of several areas that was still under the jihadists’ control as of August.
The Islamic State’s North African safe haven has shrunk considerably since earlier this year. But the group’s men have managed to stave off total defeat despite being surrounded and pressed up against the Mediterranean coast.
A previous map tweeted by Solid Structure on Sept. 22, and reproduced below, indicated that the Islamic State’s men were hunkered down in both the 600 neighborhood and Al Giza Al Bahriyia. Now the group is only in the latter.
Baghdadi’s fighters have managed to keep a foothold inside the city for the past two months, even as American airstrikes pounded the jihadists.
The US air campaign in Sirte began on Aug. 1. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) reports that there have been 368 airstrikes as of Nov. 8. More than half of these precision bombings (187) were launched in October, the third month of the campaign.But the airstrikes have slowed this month, with only one reported bombing.
AFRICOM’s Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told Stars and Stripes earlier this week that approximately 200 Islamic State fighters remain entrenched in a few city blocks. As in Mosul, the jihadists have dug a series of tunnels and are relying on snipers, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide bombers. However, the Islamic State has not claimed any “martyrdom operations” in recent days.
Sirte fell to Baghdadi’s organization last year and was considered one of the caliphate’s three most important cities, behind only Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. The Islamic State may have had thousands of fighters stationed in Sirte at the height of its control. The US is currently attempting to track the jihadists who fled the stronghold for elsewhere in Libya and North Africa.
Several hundred Solid Structure fighters have been killed, and a few thousand more wounded, during the heavy block-by-block fighting in Sirte. And the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency, a key part of the group’s propaganda machine, claims that the jihadists continue to exact a heavy toll. Amaq has posted near daily updates from the fighting in and around Sirte throughout November. The jihadists often refer to Solid Structure’s forces as “militants” belonging to Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA). Solid Structure, which draws fighters from Misrata and elsewhere, is allied with the GNA, which is the UN-backed government in Libya.
For example, Amaq reported on Nov. 13 that a “military vehicle belonging to National Accord militants” was “destroyed” and all of “those aboard killed” west of Sirte. On Nov. 14, Amaq claimed 5 GNA “militants” were killed and 22 more wounded during “clashes” in the city. Amaq released another news update that same day, claiming the GNA-backed fighters had suffered ten more casualties. On Nov. 16, Amaq alleged that GNA “militants” had “sustained 6 deaths and 42 injuries as a result of battles with Islamic State fighters in Sirte city” over the past two days. A video released by the propaganda outlet also supposedly showed a checkpoint that was being manned by the jihadists south of Sirte. The video was likely intended to bolster morale and show that the Islamic State’s diehards still maintain some degree of control over territory inside Libya.
In an audio message released earlier this month, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi praised his men in Sirte for supposedly foiling the designs of the European “Crusaders.” Baghdadi called on his “soldiers” to fight to the death in Libya and elsewhere.
For more on the offensive against the Islamic State in Sirte, Libya, see FDD’s Long War Journal reports: